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Over 1000 of you present at this ceremony this morning will shortly become citizens of our State. I want to warmly welcome you and your guests on what is a special and historic moment in your life and for your family. It is a great privilege for me to be part of your special day and to participate in this most solemn and celebratory event in which Irish citizenship will be formally conferred on you.
Many of you have travelled a long road to get to this point in your life. Some of you here have travelled a great distance to settle and reside in our country. We have today, becoming Irish citizens, men and women originating from 120 nations across the globe, from states whose names commence with almost every letter of the alphabet from Australia to Zimbabwe.
Some of you come from troubled parts of the world, from states currently experiencing major difficulties and turmoil, such as Syria; the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Somalia; Egypt; Iraq; and South Sudan. Others come from states in which regions are experiencing some level of conflict and other from states, happily, in which no such issues arise. Many of you come from democratic nations and others from nations that have not truly experienced democracy for any extended length of time. And 140 of those who will become new Irish citizens today are men and women to whom our State has granted political asylum. So, without doubt, some of you have travelled a long and arduous road with many twists and turns before arriving at this day. But today you have all reached your destination – Irish citizenship.
While your presence at this ceremony today marks the end of the citizenship process, you are also at the beginning of a new journey and a new phase of your life as our newest Irish citizens.
My earnest wish for each and every one of you here today as you embark on this new phase, is that it will be a journey full of hope and full of optimism with a bright new future as members of the great Irish global family.
Your decision to apply for Irish citizenship is, as I have said, a major event in your life. It is also a major event for us as the host nation in bestowing this honour on you. As Minister for Justice and Equality, I have the responsibility and duty, on behalf of the Irish nation, to ensure that the grant of citizenship is given in accordance with the laws of our country. This is a duty I take very seriously indeed and no decision to grant, or indeed to refuse, citizenship is ever taken lightly.
The dignity and solemnity of today’s ceremony is greatly enhanced by the presence of Judge Bryan McMahon, a retired judge of the High Court, who will perform the role of Presiding Officer. Bryan will administer the Declaration of Fidelity to the Irish Nation and Loyalty to the State – this is the final element of the application process and without it you cannot become an Irish citizen. Therefore we have to be particularly nice to Bryan or otherwise you will leave empty-handed.
The Army Band under the command of Captain Fergal Carroll is providing the music for today which adds immeasurably to the occasion. The presence of the Colour Party under the command of Captain Thomas Nally also underlines the solemnity and importance of the ceremony. I thank you all for your presence and participation.
The Staff at the Department of Justice and Equality and particularly those in the Citizenship Section in Tipperary also deserve our thanks for their work in processing your applications and helping to make today events run smoothly.
Since my appointment as Minister in March, 2011, I have implemented a major reform agenda in the citizenship area. I am now looking at further statutory changes to copper-fasten these reforms into legislation to ensure their continuance into the future and to see what more can be done to ensure that we have the best possible provisions in this important area.
Shortly following this Government’s taking office, I took steps to devise and introduce this State’s first ever Citizenship Ceremony to mark, in a formal way, the grant of citizenship. That first ceremony took place on 24th June 2011 and, on that day, 73 new citizens were welcomed to the national family. Over the course of four ceremonies today 1,816 men and 2,288 women - 4,104 in total - will become our newest citizens and become part of our Irish family. All of you here today, together with all of those who have received their grant of citizenship in 73 ceremonies like this one, since June 2011, deserve a heartfelt round of applause.
As I know you are aware, when this Government took office in March 2011, the processing time for citizenship applications, in all cases, was well over 2 years and in many cases, significantly longer. There was an enormous backlog of 22,000 applications on hand.
Today – almost two and a half years on - that situation has dramatically changed; over 70% of applications are being processed within the 6 month target, at a time when the number of new applications is at close to record levels. It will always be the case that some applications take longer but the delays experienced prior to 2011 are no longer a feature of our citizenship process. The current intake of 20,000 applications per year is running at over twice the rate of new applications 3 or 4 years ago. Today’s ceremonies, along with those that have taken place since June 2011, have been critical to this truly remarkable turnaround. In that period, some 52,000 persons from every continent, every region and a total of 170 countries have become new citizens of Ireland. This is without parallel in our history.
It is truly remarkable that this tiny island at the edge of Western Europe facing into the Atlantic Ocean which is home to us all has, as its citizens, as members of the national family, people who came to live with us from every country on this planet. I think that deserves a loud cheer and a round of applause..….
I know you are all proud of your new Certificate of Naturalisation which is now printed in English as well as in our national Irish language. The Certificate is an important legal document and is the formal evidence of your Irish citizenship. I have no doubt you will cherish and keep it carefully to show to generations yet to come as a reminder of the day on which their Mother or Father or Grandparent became an Irish citizen. It is indeed a great privilege for me to be here today and to be part of that narrative of your family and your kin.
Today we, as the host nation, or perhaps as the people who got here a little bit before you, are acknowledging in a most public way your presence here, your successful negotiation of the due process of naturalisation and our best wishes for your future.
As you leave here today, as proud new citizens of this Republic and constitutional democracy, our history is your history and, in turn, the narrative of your life is now part of our history.
Becoming a citizen of Ireland means much more than having an Irish passport or being able to vote. These, of course, are very important but, at a much deeper level, you are affirming your commitment to the values we cherish most and which are rooted in our history. In so doing you are also affirming your support for our sense of mutual responsibility to one another as citizens of this country.
As Irish citizens we are united in upholding the principles of the democracy we cherish. Today, in becoming Irish citizens, you are joining a State which provides constitutional and general law protections against all types of discrimination; where men and women are equal and where that equality is protected by our laws; a State which understands, values and respects diversity, inclusion and tolerance; a State where peoples sexual orientation and preferences are respected; a State where all people who live within our laws are entitled to the protection of those laws; a State where political freedom is an inalienable right and where political disagreements are resolved at the ballot box.
The Declaration and Oath you are about to make are serious and solemn pledges. It is the duty of all citizens to uphold them and, on behalf of the Irish people, we ask that you do your utmost to honour these pledges to our nation, to its values and to your fellow citizens as you go forward from here today as our newest citizens.
Finally, I wish to congratulate you, one and all, on becoming our newest Irish citizens – we welcome you to our national family.
I now formally introduce Judge McMahon and call upon him to administer the declaration, in which you publicly declare your Fidelity to our Nation and Loyalty to our State as well as undertaking to faithfully observe the laws of the State and respect its democratic values.
27 August, 2013
[For Information: Retired Judge Bryan McMahon presided over the 09:45 am and 11:50 am ceremonies, and Her Honour Judge Sarah Berkeley will preside over the 2:00 pm and 4.05 pm ceremonies.]